Saturday night was one of the best hockey experiences that you’ll come across.  If you watched that game start to finish and came out the other side ambivalent to the sport then it’s just not ever going to be your cup of tea.  There were highs and lows, twist and turns, the fall of a champion and the return of a star.    As the Blackhawks head into their second Stanley Cup Finals in the past four seasons there are a couple points that I’d like to touch on.  Before we begin, I’ve been getting some feedback that the site has been a bit “sports heavy” of late.  To those critics I can neither deny nor apologize.  Within two weeks we’re only going to have the remainder of what are another batch of pathetic Cubs and Sox seasons ahead of us into August so just give me this alright?  The funny life commentary stuff is on its way, just have a little patience.

  •  There is a drinking game just waiting to be created built around the NBC announcers mentioning Bryan Bickell’s impending free agency and how much money he’s going to be paid.  If you’ve got the general rules or guidelines in place already please forward them to chicagochiguy@gmail.com
  • Where the hell has the Niklas Hjalmarsson from Game 4 of that Kings series been my whole life?  That’s the guy that the San Jose Sharks made a restricted free agent offer to in 2010 (an unofficial no-no in the NHL GM-ing circles).   In the absence of Duncan Keith due to his suspension, Hjalmarsson stepped up in a big way at both ends of the ice improving his own play and covering for the abomination that was Sheldon Brookbank.  If we can get that Hjalmarsson for the remainder of his contract it would be much appreciated – it was the best game of his career hands down.
  • Speaking of Duncan Keith, make no mistake that the Blackhawks are at their best when Keith is on his game.  In 2010 he was the Norris Trophy winner, the number one defenceman on Canada’s gold medal winning team, and a Stanley Cup champion.  The following season even he would admit that he had a bit of difficulty getting back into the flow of things and the Hawks paid the piper by losing to Vancouver in the first round.  Last year things still didn’t quite seem right and the results were reflected in yet another first round exit.  The good news from last spring however was that Keith went to play for Team Canada at the World Championships and those present made comments that he was the best player Canada put on the ice. Perhaps this was a sign that he was on his way back to his Norris Trophy level of play?  While not up for the best defenceman in the NHL award this season, his game has been excellent and continues to improve as each round of the palyoffs passes.  If you watched Brent Seabrook’s play in Game 4 of this past Kings series you saw just how much Keith means to that pairing after all these years. 
  • On the defensive end I think it’s worth noting that the Blackhawks have not seen anything close to what Zdeno Chara brings to the table all year.  The 6’9” Czechoslovakian is Andre the Giant on ice and the degree to which he can mitigate the Kane-Toews-Bickell line will go a long way to dictating how this series plays out.
  • There are lots of reasons why Patrick Kane’s goal in Game 4 in Los Angeles was a bit questionable.  The puck was going to go in on its own from Bickell’s initial shot, and Kane’s airborne dive over the Jonathan Quick was overly dramatic.  With that said however there truly is something to getting off the schneid as a goal scorer.  After being as quiet as Kane had been up to that point, every scorer begins to squeeze his stick a little tighter and tries to make every shot that much more perfectly placed.  It was far more important for the Hawks going forward to get Kane to break through with that goal than it is for Bickell to make another $500,000 per year in his next contract this summer (drink!).  Hatrick Kane’s feat in Game 5 showed us all exactly how much value there is in getting that goal scoring draught monkey off ones back.
  • It’s worth pointing out that Bryan Bickell has done an outstanding job playing the Dustin Byfuglien role along side Toews and Kane.  Those two with a big bodied grinder of a second wing can cause havoc on the ice.
  • I’m poaching the shit out of Jonathan Willis at HockeyProspectus.com here but I think this will be a very interesting series as far as defining what the next few years of the NHL will look like.  Boston is a very talented team in their own right, more so than the Kings even, but they embody the big bruiser mentality of the game far more than the puck possession and speed game that defines the Blackhawks.  Like all professional sports, the NHL is a copycat league and whomever walks out of this series victorious with most likely bring with them the style of play that the majority of the NHL teams will be shift towards to find their own future success.
  • I found it interesting that for two straight years now Pittsburgh has been knocked from the playoffs by team that got under their skin and turned the series into a street fight.  Pittsburgh’s strength is in creating offense and playing with speed much like Chicago.  Getting into bar room brawls is not really there thing.  Don’t be surprised if the Bruins roll into the United Center on Wednesday trying to employ the same tact with the Hawks and it will be up to the boys in the Indianhead sweaters to play through the distractions and remember that the real battles are won on the scoreboard.   
  • Now is the point in the post where I make my prediction.  The games don’t start until Wednesday night so needless to say there is quite a bit of time for opinions to change, however I can’t help but feel the Bruins have already played their best hockey.  In sweeping the mighty Penguins everything went right for Boston and they played about as perfectly as they can as a team.  While scary to know that they can reach that level, after a six day layoff I think it will be difficult for them to jump right back into the fray at the peak capacity.  A friend noted this weekend that he’d be much more concerned if they had just shown flashes of having another gear to get to while squeaking past Pittsburgh (or had Pittsburgh done the same to advance past the Bruins), but once a team reaches the top of their potential mountain there is only one way to go and it’s down.  With that said I think the Hawks can still improve as Kane gets hot and heaven help us if Toews can follow suit by beginning to find the back of the net himself.  I guess it comes down to my thinking the Hawks still have another gear and Boston is already cruising as well as they can play.  I call it Blackhawks in six but I think it’s going to be a series for the ages and thus I suggest you make NBC on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Mondays for the next two weeks appointment television.